David Cameron is doing the right thing – but running one hell of a risk. We can debate forever whether the Great British public are right to worry so much about immigration, but they do. Many voters also view the EU through the prism of the number of foreign nationals coming to the UK to live, work and, in some cases, to claim benefits. So for the Prime Minister to leave the issue out of his attempt to get a better deal from Brussels would make him look like a man with his head in the sand just when he needs to demonstrate that he understands what really concerns people back home – even if, as many experts argue, those concerns are driven more by emotion than by any evidence of widespread “welfare tourism”. Still, it’s a dangerous game he’s playing. Focusing on immigration will only raise the profile of the issue, especially if he ends up with a package that doesn’t look too persuasive. If that happens, Brexit becomes more likely.
Laura Swire, director of Hanover Communications, says No.
The Prime Minister did not intentionally make migration central to his renegotiation, and rightly so. Events, however, have conspired to make it otherwise – certainly from a media perspective. Perhaps it was never going to be any other way. Free movement, linked as it is to the heart of the European project, was always going to be the most contentious area of renegotiation, both with European leaders and within David Cameron’s own party. This only became worse with the migration crisis. It is important to look at the bigger picture. On his other three “buckets”, the Prime Minister looks set to announce significant progress. On sovereignty, an opt-out from ever closer union. On competitiveness, agreement to ensure better regulation. Above all, on protecting the City, an “emergency break” for non-Eurozone countries. Cameron, along with the In campaign, wants the EU debate to focus on the economy. As the final deal is announced, we can expect a concerted effort to make it centre stage.